Health services will struggle to cope with upcoming winter pressures without a sufficient nursing workforce, nurse leaders have warned.
The first set of weekly winter reports released today have highlighted significant bed pressures across the country.
In response to the data, the Royal College of Nursing claimed the problem would only get worse because without more nurses extra beds cannot be opened.
In the NHS England winter report issued today, it revealed 13 out of the 134 trusts they collected data from recorded at least one day of 100% bed occupancy in the week beginning 3 December.
Of those, two trusts recorded 100% bed occupancy every day from 3 December to 9 December.
It comes on the same day NHS England issued a severe weather warning for this weekend.
There is a 70% probability of severe cold weather, icy conditions and snow between 6am tomorrow and 9am in parts of England.
NHS England warned: “This weather could increase the health risks to vulnerable patients and disrupt the delivery of services.”
Responding to the winter pressures report, Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The cold weather is only just beginning to bite, yet it seems NHS performance dipped to a worrying level for mild temperatures last week.”
The Daily Situation Reports (SitReps) are collected from acute trusts each weekday during winter and include information on areas such as A&E closures and diverts or bed pressures and are published each week.
Dame Donna also highlighted that the problem could be worse than reported as the system doesn’t allow trusts to record more than 100% bed occupancy.
She said figures from reports like this “often mask large numbers of patients on trolleys and chairs waiting for a bed to become available”.
Dame Donna added: “The NHS desperately needs more beds but can’t open them without more nurses to staff them – and with 42,000 nursing vacancies in England, this problem is only going to get worse, not better.
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“As the weather turns colder and winter begins in earnest, these figures leave questions to be answered about how hospital services will cope,” she added.
Dame Donna called for the forthcoming long-term plan to address the “year-round pressures in the health and social care system”.
Dr Becks Fisher, GP and policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said the NHS faced its “toughest winter yet”.
“Today’s data paints a picture of a system struggling against strong tides,” she added.
“The dedication of NHS staff is without question, but there is a shortage of at least 100,000 of them.
“With adverse weather, flu and vomiting viruses yet to fully hit, the NHS faces its toughest winter yet,” she said.
A spokeswoman for NHS England said its staff had been working to deal with increased demand across the service and had seen 1,000 more people within four hours in A&E every day in November, compared to last year.
“A growing proportion of people are getting same day emergency care which prevents the need for an overnight stay and hospitals have freed up an additional 742 beds, by working closely with councils to help more people return home with the right care in place,” she added.
“As the colder weather begins to set in it’s important that the NHS and local authorities continue to work together to help people stay well and out of hospital wherever possible, and the public can also help NHS staff by making sure they have their free NHS flu jab if eligible, and by using NHS 111 as their first port of call for non-emergencies,” the spokeswoman said.